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Electoral Fraud

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

3. What steps are being taken to reduce the potential for electoral fraud and inaccurate electoral registrations. (204053)

The Electoral Commission informs me that it continues to issue detailed guidance and that it works with returning officers, electoral registration officers and the police on strategies for preventing and detecting electoral malpractice.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply but, in the light of the recent London elections and local elections, will he tell us what investigations and reviews the Electoral Commission is carrying out to ensure the integrity of the electoral process, particularly with regards to postal voting? That is of great concern to a number of people because fraud has taken place in recent and past local elections.

My hon. Friend may have seen a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust into “Purity of Elections in the UK”. It highlighted the fact that although fraud is not widespread, the system remains vulnerable. The commission is continuing to work hard with those who run elections and with the police to detect and deter fraud, but it also continues to call for the introduction of individual voter registration to make the system more secure.

Although I do not describe the practice as fraud, the widespread use of personal votes in very patriarchal communities disfranchises a lot of women because the head of the household will vote on behalf of the women in his house. Are the hon. Gentleman and the commission aware of that practice, which means that I am afraid I do not agree with the proposal to extend the postal vote?

The hon. Lady’s point is one of the reasons the Electoral Commission is very keen to press the case for individual registration and for each individual—male or female—to accept responsibility for their registration and, indeed, their democratic right to vote.

Given the inaccuracies in the electoral register, is there not a special problem that is tied in with the inaccuracy of census data? There are now rather perverse but strong incentives for local authorities to keep names on the register inaccurately in order to qualify for larger central Government grants. Will my hon. Friend ensure that that issue is dealt with as part and parcel of the reforms that are urgently needed for the integrity of our electoral system?

Indeed, and in reply to an oral question on 20 March, I spelled out the Electoral Commission’s concern about the inadequacy of data. It is not possible to measure turnout accurately because there is not an accurate list of those who are entitled to vote.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) that the way to increase participation at elections is to have all-postal ballots. Why has the Electoral Commission ignored its original report into electoral pilots in places such as the north-east, which resulted in a by-election in my constituency with a 67 per cent. turnout? It found that there was no great instance of fraud and that the pilots were a good way of increasing participation. Why did the commission retreat from that and possibly bow to the pressure of some of the popular press?

The Electoral Commission takes a balanced view on that. There are great advantages in postal voting. Its view is that the postal voting system should be improved and any possible fraud removed. Central to that is individual registration.